Walking the City Wall of Nanjing, Conversing with Over 600 Years of History

The City Wall of Nanjing, hailed as the “world’s largest and best-preserved ancient city wall”, was envisioned by the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang. The construction started in 1366 and mobilized millions of laborers in the course of 28 years. Its completion in 1393 marked the culmination of this stunning national project, which comprised four distinct layers of walls that enclose the Palace City, Imperial City, Capital City, and Outer City.

Today’s “City Wall of Nanjing” refers to the wall section enclosing the Capital City, as only a few wall sections encompassing the Palace City, Imperial City, and Outer City have survived. The wall section enclosing the Capital City boasts a circumference of 35.267km (of which approximately 25km remain) and is adorned with 13 city gates. The wall was entirely constructed of brick and stone inside and out, with scholars estimating it required about 380 million bricks.

The City Wall of Nanjing was also a testament to the imperial court’s rigorous quality control measures. The firing process for the wall bricks was subject to a “physical control and named accountability” system, requiring everyone involved, officials and artisans alike, to leave their names on the bricks. Such dedication ensured the bricks were fired to perfection, resulting in a wall with bricks that had “no sound when knocked and no holes when broken”. Thus, the Nanjing City Wall is renowned as “the highest and sturdiest city wall in the world”.

Having stood the test of time for over 650 years, the City Wall of Nanjing remains an unbreakable monument, bearing witness to the rise and fall of the city it once protected. As we reflect on the past, we are reminded of the memories we must never forget.